Just How Much Sleep Do YOU Really Need?

by Eli Hendel, M.D. Medical Reviewer

Are you getting enough sleep? Are there age requirements for sleep? Have they been updated at all? The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) has determined through consensus the number of hours recommended for sleep and updated the recommendations for different age groups quite recently.

The current updated schedule for sleep suggests:** Newborns** 0-3 months old need 14-17 hours daily (a change from previous 12-18 hours)

Infants 4-11 months old need 12-15 hours daily (a change from previous 14-15 hours)

Toddlers 1-2 years old need 11-14 hours (a change from previous 12-14 hours)

Preschoolers 3-5 years old need 10-13 hours nightly with only one nap during the day

School age children 6-13 year of age need 9-11 hours nightly with no daytime naps

Teenagers ages 14-17 years old need 8-10 hours per night

Younger adults 18-25 years old need 7-9 hours of sleep nightly

Adults between the ages of 26 to 64 need 7-9 hours of sleep nightly

Older adults or seniors (65+), a new category, were given a recommendation of 7-8 hours of sleep nightly

Why was the schedule updated?

The NSF revised its recommendations for sleep because they recognized that getting too little sleep or getting too much sleep are both unhealthy habits. They therefore adjusted the range recommendations to reflect recent research.

Don’t older individuals need less sleep?

It’s actually erroneous to think that older people need less sleep just because we may see older individuals typically sleeping less at night and dozing off frequently during the day. We’ve come to assume that the pattern is due to their lifestyle of slowing down, doing less, and also usually having less activity and stimulation. In truth, seniors are less efficient in consolidating sleep, so their sleep is more fragmented and less refreshing. That’s why the daytime dozing occurs.

Humans have evolved differently from other animals

This ability to consolidate sleep explains how humans are able to function with less sleep compared to primates and other animals. Research shows that humans are short sleepers compared to other primates. This means that humans are more efficient during the hours of sleep, which frees up daytime hours that are devoted to learning new skills and creating social bonds. The concentrated time in sleep then allows the individual to cement those skills, sharpen memory, and boost brainpower.

How do you know if you are getting enough sleep?

It is typical to believe that you can get by with less sleep than recommended. Sleep experts like me know that there is a downside to having that attitude, and a possible range of health consequences.

You are probably getting enough sleep if you:

  • Sleep for the same duration on work days and non-work days

  • Awaken without the use of an alarm clock

  • Do not need caffeine or other stimulants to remain awake

  • Do not require sleep aides to fall asleep

  • Do not fall asleep during the day when you find yourself in situations with limited or no stimulation, like sitting as a passenger in a car

How can I improve my sleep duration and quality?

  • Keep a diary of your sleep and wake time so you see the clear pattern. Include the times when you go to bed, when you wake up, and how do you feel during the day

  • Go to sleep when you feel sleepy.

  • Do not get caught up in stimulating activities and delay your body’s call to go to sleep.

  • Avoid beginning stimulating activities like watching TV, using the computer close to bedtime.

  • Don’t eat too close to bedtime.

  • Try to figure out the “natural time” you wake up, without using an alarm clock

  • Get natural sunlight exposure during the daytime and create a dark environment at night, close to bedtime

  • Try to keep similar sleep schedules during work days and off days or the weekend.

After a while you should be able to see a pattern and learn how much sleep you personally really need to feel fully refreshed and productive during daytime hours. Even more importantly, you will learn the ideal times to go to sleep and to wake up.

What do I do when “life” gets in the way?Inevitably we all encounter issues that create interruptions or deviations to an optimal sleep schedule. The problem occurs when those deviations become the norm rather than the exception. More commonly, many of us let our daily commitments and interruptions guide or sleep schedule and sleep actually becomes an obstacle. The first step in changing attitudes about sleep is to think about sleep as an aid to our effective functioning in life. If you really want to perform at your best during waking hours, accept that it’s during sleeping hours that we integrate everything that we’ve learned during our wakeful hours. So make sleep hours a priority!!


David R. Samson, Charles L. Nunn. Sleep intensity and the evolution of human cognition. Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews, 2015; 24 (6): 225 DOI: 10.1002/evan.21464

Eli Hendel, M.D.
Meet Our Writer
Eli Hendel, M.D.

Eli Hendel, M.D., is a board-certified internist/pulmonary specialist with board certification in Sleep Medicine. An Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at Keck-University of Southern California School of Medicine, and Qualified Medical Examiner for the State of California Department of Industrial Relations, his areas include asthma, COPD, sleep disorders, obstructive sleep apnea, and occupational lung diseases. Favorite hobby? Playing jazz music.